OpenUI – UI versus UX

OpenUI came as a pleasant surprise to most of us and it seemed to signal a new era for Siebel. The tired looking “High Interactivity” client was failing to impress users more familiar with modern day web applications. From a technology and platform support perspective, the tie to IE 8 was driving IT departments doolally.

So has OpenUI changed the face of Siebel as we know it?

Having had a chance to see the new “Synergy” theme in action, and having messed around with “Grey”, “Tangerine” and “Aurora” across the various releases of Siebel / OpenUI, I’d say the answer is:

Not nearly enough!

You see, the problem with Siebel isn’t the User Interface – it’s the User Experience. This difference in terminology is referred to frequently in the customer context (CX is all about managing the Customer Experience throughout their interactions with your business, for example the Sales or Service process. It’s not just about holding them and data about them in a relational database). However, UX is something that is just as important if users are to take up and use a system to it’s maximum potential. UX is about allowing system users to work intuitivly and to present data and processes in a way that adds value and allows each user to do their job with minimum fuss and maximum impact. Simple presentation of lists and forms just doesn’t cut it any more.

Take a look at the “Synergy” theme: The home page holds great promise as it greatly reduces the amount of “bumph” for the user to wade through: An important component of good UX is being presented with the data and tools required to perform the task in hand, not every piece of data held. I’m presented with a modern looking interface, with nice chunky controls and graphics for consistency across devices, and a modern looking calendar showing my activities for the day. And (Halleluiah!) the salutation applet is back – how did we ever survive without it? 😉

SynergyHome

Synergy Home

Navigate anywhere, click on “Accounts” for example, and I’m plunged back into familiar Siebel territory:

AccountsHome

Synergy Accounts Home

There is quite an inconsistency of styles going on here. The toolbar buttons are, well, nice enough but they look a bit like someones very first HTML web page. You’ll also note the pilfering of the Google “Apps” icon that brings up what would have been the toolbar. That “Apps” icon has been widely derided as a great example of bad UI design, as it lacks any sort of context as to it’s purpose, so it’s inclusion in Synergy really isn’t justified. Then you’ve got the Frequently Viewed and Recent Record applets, with their tiny fonts, that look so out of place; same with the Add and Go applet. Even something simple like an inconsistency of the drop down style and icon used in the toolbar and in applets just doesn’t make for a cohrent and consistent experience for the user.

Drill down into any record and we’re right in even more familiar territory, with a mixture of form and list applets: it’s Siebel 5.0 but with a veneer of webiness thrown on to the top. That “double plus” icon is a real stinker in my book; every person I’ve asked here in the office assumes that button allows the addition of many new records. It is in fact the “New” button (as opposed to the “Add” button to its left):

AccountDetail

Lists and Forms – seen it all before

Now, I don’t mean to get overly critical of the themes, as clearly the themeing and applet layout are all customisable. I’m also aware that there’s only so much Oracle will want to change, so as to allow customers to upgrade without having to re-build the application. Anyway, we can now, of course, define our own custom renderers to present data and allow interaction in ways never before possible in a Siebel application and use pretty straightforward CSS to transform the look and feel of the UI.

However, I think Oracle have missed a significant opportunity to re-skin and re-design components of the out of the box application to show how OpenUI can transform the overall user experience, not just change the UI. We’ve all seen how awesome OpenUI can be, and Oracle themselves have demonstrated many visualizations and custom PRs that show just how much it can add to the end user experience. However, these are still tech demos and pre-sales tools – Oracle need to build them in to the core repository to allow their customers to immediately benefit from the power of OpenUI. At present, Siebel simply doesn’t do anything different – it’s the same old beast with a thin cosmetic layer atop it’s tired old skin. 😉

But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom and I think we all appreciate the massive amount of work that Oracle resources have put into OpenUI in all of it’s incarnations. I’m also aware that there are a number of organisations and individuals out there who are striving to take OpenUI to the next level and change the face of Siebel.

Are you one of these individuals? If so, would you like to share your thoughts, experiences and advice with others? Use the comments box below to show how you’ve enhanced your User Experience with OpenUI.

Code Challenge – Improving the Aurora Toolbar

As a quick deviation from messing around with Siebel 15, I thought I’d pose a little challenge to blog readers. Now, this is not in direct competition with the Siebel Hub’s “Coding Challenge” but is in a similar vain. I hope the Siebel Hub Team will forgive me.

Take a look at the screenshot below:

ToolbarButtons

WTF?

Let me ask you one question: what the hell is with that god-awful toolbar?

“Grey”, “Tangerine”, “Aurora” and “Synergy” have continued to improve both the UI experience and enhance the classes and structures allowing developers to fine tune and customise the look and feel of OpenUI. But what is it with that toolbar? It looks like something from a Windows 95 application of old:

Wordpad95

Wordpad in Windows 95

So here’s the challenge:

What changes could you make, or have you made, to make the Aurora toolbar look a little less rubbish?

I’ve enabled the ability to add image attachments to comments, so upload your screenshots below. The best entry will win a voucher for a free* Siebel Hub Trucker Hat. Now could be your time to bridge the infamous gap between the trucker and Siebel communities. This be be your only chance.

Note that simply removing the offending toolbar is not an acceptable entry into the competition.

(* not free)

Siebel 15 – First Impressions – Download and Install

I have, of course, downloaded the Siebel 15 distribution from Oracle Delivery Cloud – how could I resist? I’ve completed the installation on 64-bit Windows Server 2012 (note that R2 is also fully supported) and I thought I’d share with you my thoughts.

Siebel 15

Siebel 15 Login Screen

Download and Installation

Very little, if anything, has changed with respect to download and install in Siebel 15, compared with IP2014. Expect the usual downloads, running of snic.bat and creation of installers. Running the installers themselves present no new features or issues – I did notice that both the Tools and Web Client installers ran quite slowly and the progress bars were completely wonky. I can live with that, though!

Having installed all of the base software without issue, I installed Oracle XE and set up a test database with data and index table spaces.

SynergyHome

“Synergy” theme

Setup and Configuration

As this was a new installation, I got back to basics and started with “grantusr.sql”. This hasn’t changed since 8.1.1.9 and it still does not GRANT QUOTA UNLIMITED on your index table space. A minor inconvenience, but I wish it were a standard part of the set up.

I still can’t get used to having to run the Gateway and Enterprise configuration tools first, before running the database setup. However, without the ODBC settings created by running those two steps, I was unable to connect to my XE instance within the database setup wizard. Having created a Gateway and Enterprise, I was then able to use the ODBC source (SBA_82_DSN) to kick off the database installation.

Database creation was very quick but there is still an issue with duplicate seed data. This has been an issue in previous releases and means that the creation process takes much longer than it should. It also makes reconciliation and genuine error identification and resolution almost impossible. However, once complete, all is well and I proceed to set up the Siebel Server.

Nothing new here to report – the option to “Enable OpenUI” is present, as it was in 8.1.1.14. I don’t see any specific Component Group for CRM composer, which is interesting; the new Composer bookshelf guide points you to the installation guide which contains nothing related to Composer. Hopefully that will change shortly and anyway, the SWSE CFG shows a new entry for “WebTools_enu” so I’m guessing it’s quite straightforward to get going.

WebTools

It IS easy to get up and running!

Setting up the SWSE was as simple as it has ever been and, having created the profile, I quickly applied this to my Windows Server 2012 IIS instance and I’m ready to go. Don’t forget to explicitly enable ISAPI and 32-bit App Compatibility in IIS, or you’ll just see HTTP 500 errors the moment you try to access the SWE.

With all services started, I attempt to log into Sales and Public Sector OpenUI thin client with great success.

Stay tuned and thre’s a lot more to come on the new Synergy theme, enhancements in OpenUI and, of course, CRM Composer!

Responsive Siebel

You may have heard the term “responsive” when people talk about web site design. You’ll also hear it a lot when people talk about Siebel OpenUI, especially IP2014 / 8.1.1.14 and “Aurora”. Responsive web design is actually a really simple concept and refers to the web site “responding” to the resources available to it. This can be display media, whether screen or printer, or properties of the display media, for example screen real estate. A responsive web site renders content in a manner appropriate to the space available – when viewing the site on a phone or tablet, for example. Some common examples of a responsive design would be to reduce the font size for smaller displays or hiding large graphics. It is also possible to completely reposition elements on a page, making a landscape tablet display a toolbar down the left hand side, for example.

Check out the beautiful, responsive themes at openuithemes.com!

Check out the beautiful, responsive themes at openuithemes.com!

Making this happen in WordPress themes or HTML is really straightforward using CSS and in Siebel OpenUI it’s just as easy. All you need is some knowledge of Cascading Style Sheets and media queries.

When you build a theme in IP2013 (sorry, I’ve yet to get into the guts of the LESS-CSS based IP2014), you specify styles for elements classes within your theme’s CSS files. Modifying the layout for specific displays is really simple: just specify a media query to override that style class with something more appropriate for the layout. Here, we’ll render a different, smaller logo graphic for displays narrower than 760 pixels:

Firefox, Chrome and IE have tools for viewing and manipulating CSS; I’ve been using Firefox along with it’s Responsive Design View developer option to make layout changes that work on a variety of different devices. IP2014 and “Aurora” has supposedly introduced responsive design into the latest OpenUI release: however, feedback has been pretty poor, given that applets (pretty much the main UI component of a Siebel implementation) don’t seem to render in a responsive manner.

Now you know how it works, why not modify your own theme and let us know how it goes?

 

Critical issue with upgrade to IP2014: SBL-SCL-00143

UPDATE: As @lex points out, this is hinted at in the Installation Guide and referred to in the Siebel Security Guide:

NOTE:  When you upgrade to the current release, the Siebel Server system service password, which is required to connect the Siebel Server to the Gateway Name Server, is automatically reencrypted using AES encryption. The Gateway Name Server Password parameter, which is set at the Siebel Enterprise level, is also automatically reencrypted. You do not have to reencrypt these passwords manually.

Shame the installation doesn’t seem to do either! 🙂

I reported last week that I had significant issues with the upgrade to IP2014: I ended up with an “un-startable” Siebel Server and yet another open Service Request (still unanswered, I might add).

One of my readers and valuable contributors, Lance, has done some investigation and has found the solution to this problem: a new encoding mechanism (AES instead of RC4) for the password component of the Windows Service / Linux daemon command line and SIEBNS.DAT has been implemented and is not updated correctly by the installation process.

I’m not even going to begin to rant about how disappointing this is in terms of Oracle’s failure to test their software – it’s a story I’m really quite tired of repeating. So, on with the solution.

Recreate the Siebel Server Service

Execute the following on the command line:

This should update the ImagePath with the newly encoded password, allowing the Siebel Service to start.

Fix SIEBNS.DAT

Open a copy of your SIEBNS.DAT file in Notepad. Note down the encoded enterprise level Password parameter.

Run the following command line:

This should fix SIEBNS.DAT and allow all of your components to start.